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High Priestby A.L. Richards
The term "high priest" refers to an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Men must be ordained high priests to serve as bishops, on high councils, or in stake presidencies, or as General Authorities (see High Council; Priesthood). Stake presidents may ordain high priests for other reasons as well. When released from any of these callings, a high priest continues to be a member of the high priests quorum in his resident stake and to participate in the activities of his ward's high priests group (see Priesthood Quorum).
The president of the church is the presiding high priest in the Church (D&C 107:65-66), the president of the stake is the presiding high priest in the stake, and the bishop is the presiding high priest in the ward. Since 1956, stake presidencies have been serving as the presidencies of their respective stake high priests quorums. Each ward in a stake has a high priests group with a group leader and one or more assistants, as needed. Ward groups of high priests meet weekly to be instructed in their duties and in the principles of the gospel (D&C 124:134; J. Taylor in JD 23:219). During group meetings they also receive and report on assignments such as home teaching and volunteer service projects.
To be ordained a high priest, an elder must be recommended by the ward bishopric to the stake presidency. After approval by the stake presidency and high council, his name is presented to the general body of stake priesthood bearers for a sustaining vote after which he is ordained by or under the direction of the stake president.
The first ordinations to the office of high priest in THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints were done at the fourth conference of the Church, held in June 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio. Twenty-three men were ordained at that time, including the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was ordained a high priest under the hands of Lyman Wight, who had been ordained to that office by the Prophet. Joseph Smith had received this authority earlier at the hands of Peter, James, and John (See Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood) Current records do not specify when high priests were first organized as a quorum, but it apparently was before January 1836. For a period of time, high priests quorums were organized in each ward with their own presidencies, but in 1877 Brigham Young indicated that stake presidents had responsibility over these quorums. In December 1975 the First Presidency clarified details of the current arrangement under which ward high priests groups function as units of the stake high priests quorum, with the stake president as the president of the quorum and ward high priest group leaders functioning under his direction. As of 1989, there were approximately 246,000 high priests in the Church.
From Adam to Moses, righteous men holding the holy priesthood were ordained high priests. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, and many others were all ordained high priests (D&C 107:53; Alma 13). After the time of Moses the Melchizedek Priesthood was generally withdrawn from the earth, except among the prophets, and the law functioned under the Aaronic Priesthood. Thus, under the Law of Moses a high priest was the chief priest in the Aaronic Priesthood. He presided over all other priests in their functions and ordinances, particularly those of the temple. Only a direct descendant of the firstborn son of aaron anointed to be the spiritual head of the people could become the high priest.
In the Book of Mormon, there were apparently no Levites or descendants of Aaron among the people. High priests were the presiding spiritual authorities and held the Melchizedek Priesthood (e.g., Alma 8:23; 30:20, 23).
In the epistle to the Hebrews, Paul declares Christ to be the promised high priest "after the order of Melchisedec," an order higher in authority than the Aaronic Priesthood and not dependent upon the Aaronic lineage (Heb. 5:4-6, 10; 7:3, 11, 14-15; Ps. 110:4). As the great high priest, Christ made an eternal sacrifice, once for all time and all people (Heb. 9:11-12), and he continues to preside over all the ordinances and the organization of the Church, which bears his name (see Head of the Church).
Cotton, J. Harry, and Alexander C. Purdy. The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 11, pp. 637-708. New York, 1955.
Schrenk, Gottlob. "Priest, High Priest." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. G. Kittel, Vol. 3, pp. 257-83. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1965.
Widtsoe, John A. Priesthood and Church Government, rev. ed. Salt Lake City, 1954.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, High Priests
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company